Mechanisms of Change in Dynamic Social Interactions
Mechanisms of change during dynamic social interactions
Social and individual processes are intricately linked. Social interactions shape human perceptions and behavior. At the same time, individual traits, cognitions, and social identities enable and have a profound impact on social interactions. Understanding the interplay between individual traits and social identities on the one hand, and how they manifest in and can change social interactions; and understanding how social processes on the other hand, and how they can change individual behavior and cognitive and biological processes, is central to understanding and explaining human experience and behavior.
However, presumably due to the complexity and interactive nature of social processes, empirical investigations of social phenomena have so far often been confined to correlational analyses involving broadly defined social variables (e.g., relationship status and satisfaction) or laboratory studies drawing on stimuli and measures of only rudimentarily social nature (e.g., pictures of emotional human faces; imagined reactions to arbitrary scenarios; response latencies of button presses). The current research initiative aims to go beyond this current state of the art by combining the following key features:
- a focus on intricate, fine-grained, temporal social interaction dynamics that are expressed as changes in human behavior;
- a methodological toolbox that covers different time-frames such as real-time processes, short-lived state changes, temporary life episodes, and the life span;
- a focus on both verbal and nonverbal behavioral dynamics in order to enable comparisons and generalizations across different situations and groups (e.g., comparisons of interaction patterns in groups of children and in organizational teams); and
- a consideration of boundary conditions for change, in terms of understanding how periods of relative stability are maintained and contrast with opportunities for change through dynamic social interactions.
Within this general framework we investigate how social interaction dynamics produce biological, cognitive, affective, and behavioral change in individuals, and how individual and group differences change social interactions. A particular focus is on processes and changes in person perception and attitude formation and manifestation (e.g., self-esteem, sense of belonging) in the context of human group interactions. Specific research questions and challenges requiring expertise from different fields include the following:
- How social interaction dynamics affect individual changes at the biological, cognitive, and behavioral level;
- How individuals shape their social context and vice versa;
- How periods of relative stability are maintained and contrast with opportunities for change; and
- How different fields of psychology can be innovated through behavior-based measures of social processes.
Understanding the interplay between social interactions and individual attitudes, cognition, and behavior is paramount for advancing the scientific understanding of human nature. Our dynamic approach to social interactions at the core of the human experience has the potential to spark new research synergies and fundamentally change our perspective of phenomena across different scientific disciplines. Moreover, the understanding of the mechanisms governing the processes and effects of social interactions is important for optimizing social interaction settings, for preventing and treating maladaptive social interaction patterns and, thus, supports sustainable development.